Sexism ingrained in one culture can be truly abhorrent to someone from another, a recent BBC report highlighted. Learning and adapting to local customs can help minimise sexist behaviour towards you, according to cultural coach Sybille Kenny.

Do your research
“Gender inequality is a critical issue in many countries around the world. Therefore it is important for female expat partners to have a clear understanding of gender inequality in their host country in its political, historical and social context,” says Kenny, who has worked with many Global Connection members. “Gaining information, preferably in the pre-departure phase, is vital. Labour Laws, the Constitution/Bill of Rights and the Global Gender Gap Report of the World Economic Forum can be helpful sources.”

Observe local customs
“Observing, respecting and following local customs for women is also important,” Kenny continues. “For example, women living in religiously conservative Muslim countries must pay attention to dressing modestly or avoiding physical contact with men in public. Following such customs is essential to being able to experience at least the same level of treatment that local women receive.”

Individual or group response
But what if you feel that sexist behaviour towards you has crossed a line? Kenny: “In my native country, South Africa, I would address sexist remarks in a one-on-one conversation. I would remain factual and calm, and let the person know how it has affected me. This would give me the opportunity to set personal boundaries. But in more communitarian cultures, an individually strong response may be futile. In such cultures, it is generally more effective to seek help and protection from a group you belong to and reach a consensus on how to proceed.”

For some female expats, especially from Western countries, the latter responses may feel counterintuitive. However, it is not an example of compromise but of intercultural skill, says Kenny. “The aim is to work with the culture instead of against it. By seeking help and protection from a group a highly individualistic woman could use her personal initiative and sense of responsibility to make the issue well known in the group and to help women, who have internalised the sexism directed towards them, to become more aware of their rights.”

Cross-cultural coaching
If you are not sure how to deal with a situation, when a line has been crossed, a cross-cultural coach can help, Kenny points out. “It will help you identify open and indirect gender based discrimination and how to deal with these situations in a culturally appropriate way. Furthermore an intercultural coach can help female expat partners to find ways of earning trust and credibility from their male partners in the workplace.”

Part of a series: coping with sexism abroad
This item is part of a series on the sensitive topic of coping with sexism abroad and the importance of intercultural awareness and intercultural skills in this context.

Karen Glerum
Global Connection
Expat Partner Support

Source: Global Connection’s media for spouses (B2B subscription) and HR.